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The Globe and Mail

Humans well armed to survive mass extinction

Humans are survivors

The Earth has already suffered through five mass extinctions in the past half-billion years, says The Boston Globe, but "here's some encouraging news: Humans happen to have a lot in common with many of the species that have made it through previous mass extinctions." For example, humans can eat anything. "The ancestors of sharks survived at least three mass extinctions. Sharks are a 'generalist' species, which means they feed on a variety of foods in many different habitats. They can even eat garbage and survive. Humans can do that, too. So if we find ourselves in a situation where food supplies dwindle, we will still be able to eke out an existence eating bugs, slimes, and other perfectly fine sources of nutrition that most of us do not ordinarily consider a meal."

Our famous ancestors

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"Chances are, if you have a famous ancestor far enough back that finding out about them is a surprise, you share them with a small city of other people," says a blog from "And the farther back you go, the truer that is. In 2004, statistician Joseph Chang computer scientist Douglas Rohde, and writer Steve Olson used a computer model of human genetics to show that anyone who was alive 2,000 to 3,000 years ago is either the ancestor of anyone who's now alive, or no one at all. Think about that: If a person alive in 1,000 BCE has any descendants alive today, they have all of us – even people from different continents and isolated populations."

Stepping away from cars?

America's love affair with the car is dying, contends the Colorado Public Interest Research Group Foundation, a non-profit organization with strong environmental leanings. "The driving boom is over," foundation director Danny Katz told The Denver Post. "America is driving less and young people are leading the way. And their culture is different." A new generation of millennials – people born between 1983 and 2000 – is taking over and its members drove 23 per cent fewer kilometres on average in 2009 than they did in 2001. Granted, the recession accounted for some of the decline, Katz said, but not all of it.

Pedestrians step ahead

"In the early automobile days, say 1900 to 1920, drivers and pedestrians actually operated on a more level playing field, and shared equal rights to the road," says The Smart Set. "The street historically had been the pedestrian's domain. … Speeds were capped at 10 miles per hour on streets for years. If a car hit a pedestrian prior to about 1915, the presumption of guilt was invariably on the driver." The saint of the modern pedestrian is the late Hans Monderman. "Faced with a small budget and a request that he make streets safer in part of a Dutch village called Oudehaske, Mondeman did the unthinkable: He removed curbs and signs and let cars, bikes and pedestrians come together and sort it out on their own. It worked. … Accidents decreased, traffic moved steadily."

A BA in heavy metal?

Nottingham Trent University in Britain has launched a Heavy Metal Music Performance degree, reports The Daily Telegraph. "The course will encourage students to explore how the actions of heavy metal figures have been censored throughout history, as well as to study how famous heavy metal bands came into being and the relationship of heavy metal to religion and philosophy. In the second year, students will also get the chance to tour Britain playing heavy metal music at concerts. … Students will get a foundation degree by studying the two-year course, which can be topped up to a full BA degree with a further year's study."

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Thought du jour

"A genealogist is one who traces your family back as far as your money will go."

Anonymous, Cited in The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations

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